Our Peek Inside… series takes a look inside people’s notebooks to celebrate their imagination and inspire others. This week we are thrilled to welcome Virginia-based Ellen Crosby, the author of 12 books in the Virginia wine country mystery series. Her books have been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award and the Library of Virginia People’s Choice Award; The French Paradox was chosen as one of The Strand Magazine’s Top 20 Mysteries of 2021. She has also written two mysteries featuring international photojournalist Sophie Medina and Moscow Nights, a standalone mystery. Previously she worked as a freelance reporter for The Washington Post, Moscow correspondent for ABC Radio News, and as an economist at the U.S. Senate. Ellen’s most recent book, Bitter Roots, the 12th book in the Virginia wine country mystery series, came out in hardcover last April; the trade paperback will be available November 29. And Blow Up, the third Sophie Medina mystery, will be published by Severn House on May 2, 2023.
A longtime Paperblanks fan, Ellen has a vast Paperblanks collection that she uses for a myriad of purposes, and we were delighted to see some of our very early covers among her collection.
My First Paperblanks
I am a writer and I am also a hopeless notebook addict. Just ask my husband. I write in journals, take notes because I’m an unrepentant eavesdropper or I read about or listen to a fascinating piece of information that I just have to write down. I make lists, make lists-of-lists, record interviews, and keep a really detailed planner because I live with someone who likes to “go with the flow.” (Though he does have a better memory than I do.)
I can’t remember how many years ago it was when I discovered Paperblanks — at least fifteen — but I came across a display in the greeting card section of Wegmans, my go-to grocery store in Fairfax, Virginia. Pretty soon I was checking that display on a regular basis and so my collection of Paperblanks grew. Later I discovered Lovenotebooks.com, an independent web-based family owned store based in Portland, Oregon, that carried an extensive selection of Paperblanks, so I started ordering from them as well.
What I Love About Paperblanks
What I love most about Paperblanks — and the reason I buy them (as I suspect most of us do) — is the beautiful covers, especially the ones that look like tapestries or illuminated manuscripts, as well as anything that gleams. Gold, silver, copper, bronze — I probably own it. I tend to use the smaller sizes because they are easier to carry around since I’m never without a notebook. My biggest fear is not having a pen and something to write on if inspiration strikes or if I suddenly remember that thing I was sure I wouldn’t forget when it occurred to me in the shower or while driving that I, of course, immediately forgot. I mostly use the midi size, which slips easily into my purse, but I also use the slim, and for list-keeping I use the mini.
How I Use My Paperblanks
I write fiction, specifically mystery and suspense novels; I just turned in my 16th book to my editor in London a few weeks ago. Before I wrote novels fulltime I was a freelance feature writer for The Washington Post as well as the Moscow correspondent for ABC Radio News during the waning days of the Soviet Union, so I always used the spiral reporter’s notebooks with their plain brown covers that every journalist did for notes and interviews. Once I discovered Paperblanks, I switched to them for my book research notes, interviews, figuring out plot problems, creating character biographies, and sometimes just journaling about the book as I worked out the story in my head. Every time I start a new book, I chose a new Paperblanks (or two), so I’ve now got an extensive collection going back many years.
Early on I started numbering the pages as well as adding the date — including the year — when I wrote something down so I could keep track of all my notes. Though I regret not adding an index at the back because I’m constantly flipping through pages looking for this or that interview or someone’s email address.
I use fountain pens and gel pens — I’m a leftie and I want to write with a pen that glides over the paper rather than dragging it — and write in different colors so I can see where I began a new subject. The visual break because of the change in ink color is a big help as I look over the pages of my notebooks.
What I Enjoy Most About Writing
I write because I’m passionate about it — I can’t really explain it, but I’m happiest when I’m working on a book or a piece for a newspaper or magazine or blog. I write — and I think most professional writers would say the same thing — because I can’t not write. It’s part of who I am. I love reading, but I especially love writing and I love words. English is such a rich, beautiful language. In high school I was lucky enough to have an English teacher who spent a year teaching us how to write a proper three-paragraph essay, which is when I discovered that writing, and writing well, gives you power, a voice, and influence. It’s pretty hard to multitask when you’re reading — am I right? — so when you’re reading one of my books I’m in your head and you’re going to be thinking about what I have to say and nothing else. That’s pretty powerful.
What I’m Currently Working On
In April Bitter Roots, the 12th book in a series I’ve written about a young woman who owns a vineyard in Virginia’s beautiful horse and hunt country, came out. When I wrote The Merlot Murders nearly twenty years ago (the first book in that series), I figured I was done and I’d write something else. Instead I got asked to write more stories about those same characters; the series is now with its third publishing house. Over the years I always found a way to incorporate some aspect of Virginia’s rich, fascinating history in my stories — I am a history nut — so my books ended up as puzzles that combined something from the past, such as the Civil War or Prohibition, with a contemporary mystery which I then had to figure out how to weave together.
Recently I finished writing Blow Up, which is the third book in a series about an international photojournalist named Sophie Medina. In Blow Up, Sophie and a friend are out for a run on Capitol Hill when they come across a man who has collapsed in an alley; it turns out the man is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. He later dies in a hospital emergency room from complications due to an insulin overdose, but Sophie soon learns his death may also be related to the murder of a homeless man who was at the hospital at the same time. As Sophie tries to figure out what really happened, someone turns their sights on her. Blow Up will be out on May 2, 2023 and I’m really excited about this one!
My Advice for Fellow Writers/Emerging Writers
My best advice for anyone who wants to finally write the book that’s been living in your head forever is this: just do it. Write it and, more importantly, finish it. In your head it’s a masterpiece until you get it down on paper and wonder how you could have written such drivel. It happens to me more often than I care to admit — and I’m not the only author who thinks: Oh my God, it’s garbage. So just do it — and then get back to work revising and polishing and editing. And if you’re serious, make time for your work. If you write a page every day for a year, at the end of a year you have a book. Find fifteen minutes each day, thirty if you can, and just start. The more you practice — just like art or music or athletics — the better you get. Then find your tribe — people who are writing what you write — and get networked, whether it’s mystery, science fiction, romance, children’s literature or whatever. Those people will become some of your best friends and you’ll learn heaps about your genre.
To learn more about Ellen’s vast body of work, please visit her website.
We are continuously looking for People of Paperblanks to feature on this series. Please send us an email if you have a project that you would like to be featured.
So excited to see more Sophie!
Thank you for reading, Jim!